‘Noises Off’ pays homage to outrageous British comedies of the ‘70s, ‘80s

David Hoover is having a blast directing the upcoming production of “Noises Off” at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts in Kenner. So is the cast, crew and everyone else involved in the so-called “funniest farce ever written.”

“Noises Off” is a play within a play that Hoover says pays homage to the British sex comedies of the 1970s and 1980s, plays such as “Run For Your Life” and “No Sex Please We’re British.”

“We’re having more fun than you should ever be allowed to have,” Hoover said of the side-splitting comedy, which opens a three-weekend run on Friday, March 8. “It’s just a wonderful show.”

He can’t imagine that audiences won’t have just as much fun as they get to know the show’s cast of loony and outrageous characters, who are in rehearsal for a flop called “Nothing’s On.”

English playwright Michael Frayn wrote the play in 1982. The idea came to him more than a decade earlier as he was watching a performance of “Chinamen,” which he had written for Lynn Redgrave. He found the off-stage activity so hilarious that he set out to write a play based on those observations.

He initially wrote a one-act play called “Exits,” later expanding it to “Noises Off.” The title is derived from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds that originate offstage.

It premiered in London in 1982 and on Broadway in 1983, earning a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play, as well as Tony nominations for its director and two of its actors.

The three-act play begins with the final dress rehearsal of a sex comedy called “Nothing’s On.” The second-rate actors are flubbing their lines, missing cues and misplacing props, and an opening-night disaster appears inevitable.

“It’s after midnight, and you see lots of intrigue of who’s sleeping with whom,” Hoover said. “You have the sex pot girl, the kind of know-it-all guy and an aging alcoholic character.”

The second act takes place a month later, with the actors now playing themselves back stage. Among other things, the relationships among cast members are deteriorating, leading to off-stage antics and onstage chaos. The play is falling into complete disarray.

In the third act, the end of the run is at hand, and everyone is feeling it. Friction among cast mates continues to grow, and the final performance can’t come soon enough. The actors try to disguise a series of mishaps, but make matters worse and draw even more attention to the clumsy performance.

“We’re 12 weeks down the road,” Hoover said of the third act. “By now we know the story, and it’s really falling apart. They barely get through the act. You hear a lot of shutting doors and running up and down steps.”

Hoover said it takes a special cast to make “Noises Off” work, and he has some of the best actors in town, among them Tracy Collins, who plays Dotty Otley, a forgetful middle-age actress; Jimmy Murphy as Frederick Fellowes, who has a fear of violence and blood; and Gary Rucker as Garry LeJeune, a stuttering actor who is dating Dotty but thinks Dotty is cheating on him with Freddy.

The cast also includes Mike Harkins as Lloyd Dallas, Brittany Chandler as Brooke Ashton, Chrissy Garrett as Poppy Norton-Taylor, Trina Beck as Belinda Blair, Justin Bupp as Tim Allgood and Michael Martin as Selsdon Mowbray.

Besides Hoover, the production team includes Dester Rogers, assistant director; Jenny Billot, stage manager; Eric Porter, set design and technical director; and Linda Fried, costume design.

Hoover credited Rucker, Rivertown’s artistic director, with bringing “Noises Off” to Kenner.

“He’s a former student of mine (at the University of New Orleans),” said Hoover, who is chairman of the UNO Department of Film, Theater and Communication Arts. “We did the show 20 years ago, and this is one he always wanted to do again. It’s not as easy as it was then, but the part is tailor-made for him.”

“Noises Off” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 24. Tickets are $25 to $30 and can be purchased at www.theatre-13.com. For more information, call 504-461-9475.